Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Death of the drop goal

In their last 83 games Scotland have only scored a solitary drop goal – Duncan Weir’s match winner against Italy in March 2014.

It’s never been the most fashionable method of scoring, with the dark blues only notching 146 drop goals in their history compared to 1,231 tries. This long-term drought is new though. So what gives?

In the era of the 4 year Rugby World Cup cycle Scotland had always picked up a few drop goals in each period before reaching their high-water mark ahead of the 2011 tournament. Since then though…

For a bit of added context here are the average number of tries scored per game by Scotland for the same periods:

The king of the drop goal

2010 and 2011 were the peak years for drop goals. Dan Parks was in his pomp, banging over 13 in 21 games (backed up by another 2 from Ruaridh Jackson) as a Scottish side that struggled for tries attempted to find a way to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

All in all, Dan scored 17 drop goals for Scotland, ranking him 6th equal of all-time in the history of international rugby union (top dog of course being Jonny Wilkinson with 36).

As we look at it now, Scottish drop goals died the day Dan Parks retired. The man who bagged 24 of the 43 DGs in the history of Glasgow Warriors is synonymous with this method of scoring. And no one else since then seems that fussed.

Some might say “who cares?” It’s always been the hardest to love method of grabbing points – if Jannie de Beer had picked up 5 tries against England in 1999 he’d never have had to buy himself a pint again. 5 DGs brought a rather sniffier response as if they were too easy and really anybody could do that.

The missing link?

In the context of the current Scotland team though, might there be the odd occasion when a drop goal might provide another outlet? Another way to get in front or build the scoreboard to get a result?

This isn’t intended as some misty-eyed paean to heady days of drop goals (and barely any tries).

The genesis of this piece came midway through Scotland’s 26-phase possession just before half-time against Ireland. The green wall was impenetrable and the thought popped up – if Finn Russell dropped back here…Middle of the pitch; 15 metres out. Easy 3 points and Scotland are in the lead. As it was, a failure to take points during those minutes may well have set the course of the match.

So far in this Six Nations, Scotland have been scoring off very few phases in the 22. None of their attacks that have involved 3+ rucks in the red zone have lead to a try. That’s the reality of coming up against a packed defence. The closer to the goal line a side gets, the harder it becomes to score. It’s easier for a defence to reload than it is for the attacking side. If there’s no chance of a jackal there will usually be no defenders on the ground. However the ball carrier will need at least 2 or 3 of his mates to make sure possession is secured. When the ball is released from the ruck it’s usually with the attackers outnumbered.

Bring back the Drop Goal

So if Scotland drop a goal instead, what might change? It wouldn’t just be about picking up points there and then. Suddenly there’s another factor for the defence to consider every time Finn and co. are back in the 22. Do they just aim to smash those forwards waiting either side of the ruck? Or do they need to get past them to charge down the kick? From a position in the pocket behind a central ruck, Finn can take control. Take the points; keep marshalling the forwards in front of him; break left or right depending on how he reads the defence.

It also factors into the way this Scottish attack most probably has to develop if the side is to keep progressing. More control at 10. More decision-making for Russell. Moving away from the crutch of relying as much on Greig Laidlaw to temper things. ‘Finnsanity 2.0: the Racing years’ has already demonstrated that while the cheese and wine lifestyle may not be good for his waistline, it’s matured Russell like those finest products of France.

Time to release the toddler harness and let the man who will truly define the Townsend era’s success or failure run free. Who knows, he may even drop a goal or two…

32 Responses

  1. In the era of the kick-pass, current use of the drop goal is almost exclusively as an at the death match winner…which Scotland rarely have need for (one way or the other)

    In fact, I like your idea of using it more broadly, for example as a means to potentially unsettle the defence.

    Especially if you bang a few over when you don’t need to…this might draw a defensive error in later attacks (e.g. an overenthusiastic shooter), or prompt the cover defense to push up more early, leaving space behind, or forcing a penalty.

    Not sure if this would work though? It certainly wouldn’t if they are missed, which perhaps is the main problem…

  2. The improvement in player fitness, defensive awareness and line speed are the bigger factors IMO.

    It’s harder to score a DG now.

  3. After the Argentina game in 2018, Finn confessed he had never dropped a goal. The game was crying out for it at the death with the scores tied at 16 each and we eventually won it with a Laidlaw penalty. But it seemed a strange admission from a stand-off.

    We should have tried one against France on Saturday past at the end from under the posts. Instead we bashed away unsuccessfully when the only thing to be gained in terms of six nations points was a losing bonus point and a DG would have got us that.

    I think somewhere along the line the art of the DG has been lost. If the three points are on offer don’t seem enough reward, then why does anyone ever kick for goal from a penalty? Maybe Stu is right fitness now makes it harder. But I’m not fully convinced this is the complete reason. In a fully fit Scotland team we could have Hogg dropping back into the pocket and Finn threatening to break – a lovely conundrum with which to present a defence.

    1. As you say. You just know Hogg has the ability. Finn lining up as a dummy receiver. Surely ripe for when we’ve ground to a halt before the line early doors.

  4. Watched De Beer drop-goal England to a slow death that day with a few English guys and it was hilarious.

    I wouldn’t swap 10 Russell/Hastings jinky runs for 1 Dan Parks drop goal. It’s all about keeping the board ticking over and Dan did that better than anyone. Dan nailed numerous drops and penalties in his Scotland career, most memorably Dan’s late penalty to win the match in Dublin. I accept drop goals were probably easier in Dan’s time but bar Weir there’s nobody else currently in Scottish rugby with Dan’s poise and technique.

    1. But DP missed the crucial one against Argentina in RWC 2011 that saw us crash out of the tournament in the group stages for the first time ever! TBF Felipe Contepomi was offside a mile

  5. How about dropping Finn in to the pocket whilst both wingers subtly drop back. The defence will anticipate a DG attempt and push up letting Finn go aerial into one of the exposed corners giving one of our wingers a simple catch and run in. Next time he just slots the DG to keep them guessing. Got to be CLEVER.

  6. We were chatting about this recently at Murrayfield, sorry, BT Murrayfield 😉. I reckon there are a few occasions where it is a good tool to have in the box. These are mainly around the championship minutes periods. Particularly reaching the end of the first half if adding 3 points will give you a two score margin. Similarly in the last 10 to keep it out of reach. And also of course the match winner at the death. Only worth it if the field position is very favourable and if there is someone who can reliably drop it. From my observations Finn is shocking at drop goals, which is surprising given his natural skill set. I reckon it’s also anathema to him (if he was capable of being so negative about anything, which i doubt) if they’re within 40 metres he’s going to be looking for the try. However, having all the options can be the difference in knock out scenarios.

    1. Finn is the sort of player who is probably just as likely to hump one over from just inside half way as he is to slice one wide from bang in front and 15 yards out with all the space and time in the world. Best just to not bother.

  7. I think this is a great idea. As much as I love the open running rugby, we can be rather one-dimensional and lacking in a Plan B. I would also like us to work on a kicking game for field position but can’t see this happening any time soon

  8. Anyone know why there are very few comments ever posted on the Offside Line?

    Seems typically Scottish, sadly, that despite being a small country with a small population, and rugby being a minority sport, we do our best to create rival factions. Divide and rule?

    Whatever the snobbery or religion or some other excuse, why can’t we, as a nation, agree to to what’s best for the greater good?

    We can look at Scottish football if ever proof were needed,that division on such a scale doesn’t work. Healthy competition with a with collaboration surely?

    Really can’t be arsed with that sort of stuff now.

    1. Hi Scottie. My guess is that the Offside Line hasn’t been going for as long as this blog. It’s taken time for us to build up to the volume of comments we get now. On early articles we only got a handful.
      We certainly don’t view them as “rivals”. There’s some crossover but we try and come at things more from a “fan” perspective whereas they do proper journalism.
      They’re reporting of Super 6 and happenings at SRU is excellent and we’ve tended not to cover it for that reason.
      I think there’s space for it all. There’s about 5 different podcasts on Scottish rugby now but each has its own tone and take on things. People will generally gravitate to whichever one they best relate to.
      Could be The Offside Line lads are happy with a lack of comments. Moderating then can be a full time job ;)

    2. Thanks for that Cammy.

      I’ve made a boorach of trying to reply earlier, so fingers crossed. Typewritten words can appear out of context when read with a different perspective.

      Anyway, there’s a game coming up next week, so time to get back on the optimistic bus and hope our coaches and players have taken stock. Will be interesting to see the squad when it’s announced.


  9. We have certainly tried in the last few years, I think, as others have already aluded to, that Finn is mince at drop goals. I don’t like the “well we’re never going to score a try” attitude. Much like kicking a penalty, if the games tight, yes it gives you 3 points but it also gives the opposition territory and, if you are as bad as us, probably possession to go with it.

    Dan Parks, for his many faults was undeniably a fantastic kicker of a rugby ball. It suited us at the time, we couldn’t score tries and had a good kicker, it won us a few games.

    However it is a good thing to have in the arsenal that we are perhaps overlooking. It would keep a defence guessing if someone’s sitting in the pocket, perhaps a couple running out of the line for a charge down could be used to our advantage?

    I have nothing to back this up but I think they have gone out of fashion in general. I’m tempted to say kicking penalties is going out of fashion too, a lot of teams default is kick to the corner now, again no stats to back that up just a feeling.

  10. If Russell is mince then look elsewhere in the back division or even the pack. Some of us are old enough to remeber Dougie Morgan drop kicking a few from the scrum-half berth, including one memorably off attacking lineout ball. Ian MacGeechan kicked some from the centre as did Jim Renwick.
    Even if Russell is mince at kicking, he is no worse than a young John Rutherford, who through diligent practice made himself one of the best tactical kickers of his day. One for the coaches, and player(s), to work on.

  11. WE have to use the ‘drop goal’ option. It’s not a sign that you can’t score a try. It’s mixing up your rugby to keep the opposition on the back foot and guessing what you’re going to do. It was patently obvious that Scotland were not going to score a try on several occasions in previous matches, when a drop kick would have been the clever move. I’m surprised that Townsend doesn’t use it as a weapon.

    1. Toonie himself scored a belter of a DG in the 14-15 calcutta cup loss in 1994. Should have won the match with it, but the hand of Rob Andrew intervened at the death with the blue cuffs which made it appear like it was a Scots hand in the ruck.

  12. Dan Parks’ time at Glasgow coincided with Warriors emergence vying with Connacht to hold up the league to being a regular in the end of season play offs. The number of games he won or earned a losing BP by dint of a c 4/5 goal-kicking ratio or through timely drop goals, was immense. He was an invaluable asset to Glasgow for years and made a huge contribution to the side’s emergence as a competitive force. Sadly, I remember the attitude (wise men from the East mostly) of those who were so critical of his limitations – those who don’t understand the value of a 10 who can put a ball in a bucket from 40m. The post was about the art of the drop goal-it’s a recent and painful a memory looking back to the late 2nd half of the Ireland game. Twenty plus phases and running out of steam. There are many arguments why the call should have been made (at equilibrium) to drop in to the pocket and take three points – two of them – 1) the importance of registering a score when you are in the ascendant and 2) not battering your head against the wall until you buckle to your knees leaving the psychological message that you’ve given it everything and come away with nothing. Hogg saw it on the day. There will always be a case for the drop goal. Apologies if this post repeats any point previously made . . . I haven’t had time to read all previous . . .

  13. Was just thinking back to Hogg’s 40m drop goal at home against Connacht at the start of September to win the game. It was with an ankle that needed surgery after the game too!

    I definitely think its something Scotland should try more often to keep the opposition defense thinking and to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Maybe its just that Russell plays up close to the line and therefore if he drops back its obvious. Especially if the ball is coming back slowly. Maybe its something Peter Horne or Hogg or Kinghorn or maybe even Laidlaw could add in to their game for the world cup.

  14. I remember Jonny Wilkinson talking about a drop goal from another perspective. To concede a try a team basically has to make a defensive mistake. Our you do something brilliant. You can concede a drop goal and have done very little wrong.

    The other issue is that as we dont seem able to score from close in from multi-phase its a perfectly viable option. If you score 80% of the time that is. To be honest I am starting to seriously wonder why nobody does a box kick to compete from 10 yards out sometimes. If the odds are 50-50 the that seems a better option than 25 pick and go’s then done for going off your feet.

    1. Remember that being tried in the Five Nations v World Xv match to raise money for Romania in 1990. Scrum half (might have been Richard Hill) lined up a tap penalty 5 metres out. The forwards line up and the defenders, expecting a drive, charged out to meet them as the ball was talled. Hill picked it up and with his back to the goal line kicked it over his shoulder into the in goal area. The forwards ran through the defensive line and scored I think.

  15. I don’t care how we do it, I just want us scoring points and winning games!

    We’d need to be spot on at receiving the kick offs though as no point scoring three to then concede 5/7. How does the decline of the DG tie in with the rise of the 4 try BP?

  16. Off topic but have just seen that Hamish Watson and WP Nel in starting 15 for Edinburgh tomorrow!

  17. More excitingly Jack Blain!

    Only just turned 19 and a bit of a physical freak but has really good skills as well.
    He tore it up last year for the U18s and has been doing the same so far for the u20s.

    A very bright prospect indeed.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion